John Cravens

Posted on July 23, 2011

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Occasional Difficulties

The sky above Lake Annecy was a rich blue and clear of clouds, and the late spring sun, now after mid-day, was strong.  They were sitting at a small table on the hotel terrace where they had good views of the lake and the town beyond.  Mr. Addison had already drunk most of a decanter of red wine.  Christopher Post took only a first sip and then slid his glass aside.

“Honesty is a fine virtue,” Mr. Addison said, looking directly at Christopher.  He spoke carefully with suppressed tenseness.  “But honesty will always be corrupted if one lives long enough.”  He looked at the young man who cautiously looked back at him.  “You don’t believe this?”

“I believe it takes courage to live honestly,” Christopher answered.

Mr. Addison nodded.  “How old are you?”  He poured the remaining wine into his glass.

“I’m seventeen,” Christopher said, “almost eighteen.”

Mr. Addison regarded him, the boy’s American confidence showing in his serious smile.

“I’m certain, Christopher, that at this point in your life you do not understand the complexities of the world.”

“I’m learning some important things hitching around solo.”

“Oh I’m certain you are.”  He spoke with his eyes fixed on the boy, then suddenly smiled coldly.  He drank the rest of his wine and then looked for their waitress.

“‘Let no man despise thy youth’,” Mr. Addison said.

“Is that Shakespeare?”

Non, c’est l’écriture sainte:  holy scripture.”

“You know scripture but you’re an atheist?” the boy said.

“Umm.  I was raised with the beliefs of my parents.  But I have no belief in unseen mysteries–a universal complexity–explained by the words of men.”

Mr. Addison saw their waitress and rocked the empty decanter when she looked at him.  He stared at the table in front of Christopher and said, “My father died when I was sixteen.  I faced reality that day, not a pretense that death is not final.”

Christopher glanced away, to a sailboat at anchor in front of the hotel.  It had a small cabin and its hull was painted leaf green.

Mr. Addison held his view fixed on the boy.  “My father died from honesty; my mother came home one evening and told him she was in love with another man.  Later that night my father hanged himself.”

Christopher looked at bright sunlight glinting off the sailboat’s varnished wooden mast.  The mainsail lay neatly flaked over the boom.

“I know such a tragedy would be awfully hard to face at sixteen,” he said, not looking at Mr. Addison.  “I don’t know if I could stand that.”

“There’s very little choice about many circumstances in life.”

They both watched the sailboat as a young woman came out of the cabin and stood in the cockpit.  A young man came on deck also.  They both were wearing shorts and bright colored tee shirts.  The young woman stood beside the mast and the man went forward and brought up the anchor.  When she raised the mainsail the boat began moving quickly through the water, and the man steered it out into the wider body of the lake.

“Do you think they were making love, there on their little boat?” Mr. Addison said.

“I didn’t think of that.  She looks awfully young, about Monique’s age.”

“Umm.”  He looked at Christopher sharply.  “You find my daughter attractive?  Desirable?”

“Certainly.”

Their waitress came with another decanter of wine.

“You won’t have wine, Christopher?”

“No, I prefer beer.”

“Then bring my young friend beer.”

They watched the girl as she made her way through the tables and back inside the hotel.

“There are severe age requirements for drinking alcohol where you are from?” Mr. Addison said.

“Yes.  This is a very good way to get to live now.  Maybe I’ll stay in Europe until I’m of age.”

“And continue in days of leisure?”

“I’m very grateful for your hospitality.  There are sometimes difficulties hitching and riding trains.”

“Yes, indeed.”

Christopher smiled to the girl as she brought him his glass of beer.  She smiled back before she left them.

Une belle jeune fille,” the boy said.

Oui.  Très bien.  She is indeed a beautiful young girl.  And she seems inclined towards your interest now.”  He watched the boy.  “But of course you have a girlfriend at home, to whom you remain faithful?  Am I being too personal?”

Christopher shook his head.  “I’ve had girlfriends, but no one is waiting for me to come back.”

“I’m certain you are experienced in the ways of lovemaking.”

“I don’t pretend that I am.”

The man regarded the boy.  “Madame Addison was just your age when I met her, and I was her age now.  Now she is exactly–to the year–twice your age.  And I have already passed the half-century of my life.”

“You don’t seem old at all.”

“That is so very kind.  But you have vitality that I no longer possess.  There is no time like our youth, Christopher.  It is when all that is to come–what is to be–is formed by each of our acts and decisions–by our thoughts.”

“But what of fate and chance?”

“Now this is much too serious a contemplation for me.  I am a simple investor of client’s money, now speaking to a young guest in my house whom I saw hitching near Geneva on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.”  He smiled.  “Now was that chance?  Or is this our fate?”

He poured a full glass of wine and drank of it deeply.

“Do not listen to me,” Mr. Addison said.  “I know nothing of such things as fate and chance.  I only attempt to be content with each day.  I no longer expect to understand how what is to be becomes so in this life.”

#

#

When Christopher and Madame Addison were alone together again he said, “I couldn’t tell him.”

“Good.  I didn’t think that you should, although I supposed you would, because of how strongly you feel it is correct to be honest.  Did I say that in English in a way you can understand?”

“Yes.  But I want to tell you I think that you are a very kind and generous woman.”

“Is this your way of saying we are at the end of our time?”

“I hate that I can’t go on with more of what we’ve had.”

“Because you now think of Monsieur Addison?”

“Yes.  I regret like hell I didn’t at the beginning.”

“I did not give you time to think, if you recall,” she smiled.  “Do you wish differently now?”

“No.  But there’s a cost.”

“It is so in life, Christopher:  each moment of conflict within ourselves carries its own requirement for redemption.  I am not certain I say this clearly.”

“I think I understand what you mean.”

Then they sat in silence, until at last she said, “So you go on your way?  South again?”

“Yes, I go south.  Je vais au sud.”  He looked at her directly.  “I was afraid to tell him, because of what his father did.”

“Why, what has that feisty old man done now?”

Christopher’s head jerked back.  “Isn’t he dead?  Mr. Addison told me . . . .”

“That he killed himself, for his wife taking a lover?”

“Yes.”

“He knows about us.”

Christopher breathed shallowly.

“Monsieur Addison and I understand that we are ourselves but we are also together.  We think our family is more important than the occasional difficulties that come between us.  He is a good father, a good husband.  But he has had his difficulties too, from time to time.”  She looked across the yard to where her daughter lay in the sun reading a book.

“You were right to not be honest towards him today.”

Christopher’s head jerked back.  For an instant he seemed near tears.

She glanced at him and then quickly said, “Do you want some tea?  That sounds good now, to share a pot of tea, doesn’t it?  And perhaps Monique will join us.”

But Christopher was already walking away from her, back toward Mr. Addison’s office.

“Please, Christopher,” Madame Addison called, “I did not say what I meant to say.  Please stop.”

He stopped and she went to him calmly.  She took both his hands in hers’ and looked up into his eyes.  Then she leaned her head against his chest.

“Let’s not have our time end like this,” she said.  “There will be nothing gained by telling him what he already knows–what he does not want to have spoken.”

“I was going to thank him for his kindness and generosity, and tell him I’m moving on now.”

“You only tell him that?”

“Only that.”

“Then I regret it is so, that you go away.”  She kissed him on his cheek.  “Bonne chance, Christopher.”

She turned and called, “Monique–my dearest one–come and say au revoir to Christopher.  He is going now, continuing his grand adventure.  Come and say adieu.”

***

John Cravens is an architect and has had design responsibilities for international projects.  He is now writing fiction full time. He is a graduate of The University of Oklahoma, and lives with his wife in Tulsa.  He has had stories published in Slow Trains Literary Journal, The Shine Journal, and SLAB Literary Magazine.  Another story is currently forthcoming in Prole, a literary journal published in Britain.

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